Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Orthodox Jewish Guy Outside the Supermarket

I went down to Pathmark Supermarket to buy whole wheat hamburger buns and some bottles of Snapple.   In front of the entrance, was an Orthodox Jew handing out leaflets.  He was wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, a traditional fringed garment worn under the clothing.  I’ve seen these guys before.   Some ultra-religious Jews go around and try to get less religious Jews to pay more attention to the various rituals of Judaism.  These men believe that the spreading of their religious fervor will hasten the arrival of the Messiah.

Usually, these Jews only bug other Jews.  They frequently ask passerbys, “Are you Jewish?” before they annoy the hell out of you.   I understand that they are on a mission, but sometimes I just want to walk to the supermarket without having to discuss religious issues.   The only time I’ve ever said that I WASN”T Jewish had nothing to do anti-Semitism.   It was to avoid one of these ultra-religious guys pestering me on the street about lighting the Shabbos candles.

“Here, take some candles. Light them on Friday night. Do you belong to a temple?  Come to our temple.  We even will feed you!”

They will feed you. I know their trick.   You go to their temple.  They feed you some good chicken soup, and then they OWN YOU!

What surprised me about this guy outside the supermarket was that he was not asking, “Are you Jewish?” to anyone.   He was handing out his leaflets and talking to every passerby, whether they were black or white or Latino or Asian.  Some of these shoppers quickly walked by, while others politely took one of his leaflets.

Was he trying to convert everyone to Judaism?

Three years ago, I wrote a post advocating Jews trying to convert other religions. I was being a little tongue in cheek.   At the time,  I felt that if other religions are always trying to convert you, why not return the favor?   In reality, conversion is a dirty word for most Jews because it brings up a sad history of forced conversion, mostly at the hands of Christians.   Even though I wrote that post, I don’t really feel comfortable with anyone trying to convert another person.

I wondered if this zealot outside my Queens supermarket felt safe trying to convert others to Judaism because we were in Queens, and there were many Jews in the neighborhood.   Maybe he felt safe in numbers, despite the fact that there was a mosque right across the street.

This made me angry.   If I were a Jew in a Christian neighborhood, I would hate having someone try to convert me outside my local supermarket.  I would feel as if I was being pressured to be “one of the majority.”  I’m not a hypocrite.    Why should a Jew try to convert others in our neighborhood?   Surely, the religions of others — whether it be Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism — is as worthy a religion.   This smug Jewish guy, passing out leaflets, was arrogant.  It didn’t matter if he was “part of my tribe.”

I walked into the supermarket, using a side door, just to avoid him.

After I finished my shopping, I looked through the store window, and saw my Jewish friend deep in conversation with a black mother and her son.  The mother took the flier, nodding in agreement.  Did he just sucker in another victim to leave her own religion behind?  My face grew red.  This idiot was giving the Jewish people a bad name.

I walked outside, waiting for him to hand me a flier and engage me in conversation.  I walked by and he completely ignored me.   What was up with that?!   Did he see that I was angry and was worried about a conflict?   Or could he tell that I was already Jewish so he didn’t need to convert me?   And how did he know I was Jewish?   Was he judging me on my Jewish nose like a racist would do?   Was this Jewish man stereotyping a fellow Jew?

Hell, I wanted him to try to convert me!   I wanted him to hand me one of those leaflets, so I can shove it back in his face and tell him that this is not the ways Jews should behave.  That it is a shame for him to stand there in his yarmulke and tzitzit and show such disregard for other cultures and other religions.

I did a 360 and entered the supermarket again, just so I could exit a second time and get one of those leaflets.  I quickly re-walked my steps, leaving the market as I did before, not even waiting for the electric door to fully open.  I walked past the ultra-religious Jewish guy, who was eagerly handing out his leaflets — and the asshole ignored me again.

That was enough for me.   Like Abraham, who would sacrifice Isaac, his son, because of God’s word, I knew that it was my moral obligation to confront my Jewish nemesis.  I stepped in front of him.

“May I have one of those leaflets.”

“Sure,” he said reluctantly.

He handed me one. I held it tightly in my hand, ready to start my diatribe against religious hypocrisy.  And then I read the piece of paper:

“Looking to sell your condo?  Call 718-555-1212.”

When I arrived home, I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair had gotten long again. I was unshaven. I was wearing an old t-shirt. Apparently, I was stereotyped by this guy as someone who can’t afford to own a condo.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthTruth and Fiction

48 Comments

  1. The Jewish community here is so small that I’ve never experienced this. Sounds like an experience. I have experienced stereotyping though.

  2. Stereotyping rocks, no? Just when we think we’re railing against it, it turns out we’re the biggest perpetrator. Happens to the best of us. In your case, it also made for a damn funny story.

  3. Most of my experience with that sort of thing is the Evangelical Christian kind, but since I bathe regularly on my own and have Jesus issues, I don’t fall for THAT, I can tell you.

  4. Haha! This reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where George gets pissed that the cult that hooked in his boss isn’t interested in him.

  5. Aren’t preconceived notions wonderful?!?! :o)

  6. Ha! The surprise ending there made me laugh.

  7. Best story I’ve read today, hands down. I know about these people, being in Brooklyn and all, but I rarely ever get asked if I’m Jewish. Actually, I can only remember it happening once come to think of it. Either way, asked or not, it is ALWAYS thought provoking.

  8. Hey Neil,

    I’m not Jewish but I am kosher. Really. : )

  9. Ry — There are all different types of Orthodox, too. Some would be so religious that they wouldn’t even be talking to women, only men. This guy seemed a bit more modern Orthodox.

  10. You know, Neilochka, he may have thought you were a nouveau riche Donald Trump kind of a guy who wouldn’t be interested in his silly little condo. You exude an air of financial superiority–Really.I can tell by your blog photo.
    PS. I would convert for chicken soup :>)

  11. This is so, so great. And squirmy-awkward realistic. I’ve lived that range of emotions.

    When I lived in Tel Aviv I used to cross the street on my way to work to avoid the religious women handing out candles.

    Now wondering how many of my assumptions about them *and* theirs about me were way, way off.

  12. I always tell people that when it comes to conversion, we’re like a business that’s no longer taking applications.

  13. For real, you can’t flirt on the internet if you’re Jewish?? I’m totally converting the next time some perv tries to IM me when I’m trying to get my chat on.

  14. Pathmark is still in business?

  15. Holy crap! This had me rolling.

    Just goes to prove the old adage:
    To assume just makes an ass of “u” and me.

  16. Ha! The closest experience I have ever had to that in Berkeley was when the Moonies tried to invite me over for lunch or dinner — my choice — back when I was in high school.

    And around here “scruffy” means eccentric who made a lot of money inventing something or writing. Or else they’re homeless.

  17. that is hilarious! it sounds very easily like something i am capable of.

    i think dressing like a street person has it’s advantages, in that maybe you won’t get mugged.

  18. Too funny. The only thing I have come close to that is when signing deaf people (I am hard of hearing, but I choose to be oral) try to convince me that I should sign and not betray my true roots. Whatever!

  19. HEEE!!!! that’s great.

    I was once totally suckered by one of those guys that ask, “are you Jewish?”

  20. It’s always amazing to me when my perception of a situation gets a hole poked in it. It leaves me reeling for days about how we’re all walking around thinking we experience the same world, but we don’t, we can only see our version of it. Also, I’m now singing Man in the Mirror, a terrible, terrible MJ song. Thanks. I kind of hope when I leave here that you’re singing it too.

  21. To quote the 8th grade me – who was befuddled by my (Catholic nun) principal’s measured yet clearly startled response to my outburst when I realized I didn’t know the answer to a question on the test I was taking –

    “OY VEY!”

  22. Socio-economic profiling is just another way THE MAN holds people down.

  23. Apparently, your Jewish friend has never seen some of the trust-a-farian hippie types wandering around my area.

  24. Very funny! I, too, was surprised that any ultra-orthodox man, much less a Chasid, would be talking to women, especially women who clearly weren’t Jewish. But that’s what gave me a hint that this was about commerce, not religion. I know how some Chasids separate what they do in their real lives (never touching a woman) with their business lives (shaking strangers hands in a store). The only time I ever put teffilin on was when I was accosted in midtown Manhattan and dragged onto a Lubavitcher “mitzva-mobile.” But I kind of liked it. I think the Chabad people do really good work and they don’t seem too aggressive to me. I guess I’m like George from “Seinfeld,” I would’ve been insulted if they hadn’t accosted me!

  25. That is hilarious! And I once did the same thing at the mall so I could pick a fight with a group of teenagers who were trying to ban smoking in movies. They totally ignored me, like I was some lost cause.

  26. Wow. You got me!
    What a great post, Neil.

  27. Danny — This story is true, so most of this was in my own head. I wasn’t thinking very clearly. He wasn’t a Chabad, and in retrospect, it did seem odd that he was handing leaflets to everyone. I just ASSUMED that because he was wearing some traditional clothes that he was doing some sort of religious thing. It didn’t even occur to me that he was just handing out some stupid business fliers.

  28. I love a good laugh with my coffee! Now I have to go wipe it off the floor…

  29. Never, never ASSume…

    We had a one of those Chabad guys try to recruit Mister in South Beach a few weeks ago. When Mister said he wasn’t Jewish (lie), the guy looked at him like he knew he was lying. Is there such a thing as Jewdar?

  30. You are the MASTER of the unexpected ending!

  31. So funny. I’m sure he wouldn’t have approached me either. I just ooze poor white trash.

  32. jews are actually supposed to discourage people from converting to Judaism.

    jews don’t try to convert non-jews.
    they only try to make non-religious jews more religious.

    🙂

  33. You showed him, you hippie.

  34. Loved the post, Neil, but I’d already guessed that he wasn’t “out to get you”. (or a pun: ghetto you)

    Some of these Chabadniks who fervently set up tables in supermarkets or shops and try to interest you in their wares have become Orthodox themselves through Chabad.

    Being handed Shabbos candles or the Traveler’s Prayer isn’t such a big deal; I’ve been given a “handy card” featuring the prayer you’re supposed to say upon exiting the bathroom, having done your business.

    From Torah Tots:The awesome bracha of Asher Yatzar, (literally “who formed”), which refers to the complexity of the human body, thanks Hashem for creating our body and for the continuous daily miracle of its proper functioning. It is recited every morning as part of the Birchat HaShachar, (Morning Blessings) and again, every time after using the bathroom.

  35. When I first moved to New York I had a couple of these people come up and ask me if I was Jewish. When I said no they would just turn and walk away. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Then, I was next to someone who said yes she Jewish and I finally realized what it was all about. I also was a little insulted that they didn’t want to convert me, but if they tried to I probably would have been annoyed.

  36. Those damn Jews – always trying to convert people to condo life.

  37. people often think that I’m jewish. i think its a past life thing.

    so.. wonder if he is from so cal too?

  38. Is there such a thing as Jewdar?

    He bageled him.

  39. Frickin’ hilarious! Only in Queens. (Or probably not.)

  40. You totally crack me up.

  41. btw, he was wearing a tallis/tallit — which has, on its ends tzittzit.

    other than that, i absolutely love this story. i may link to it on yom kippur 🙂

  42. Sher — yes, but then people would get confused with what most people think a tallis is — the shawl at temple.

  43. The stereo type meets the stereo type. Think ya were profiling? Ya….just a little. But then again SO WAS HE.

    Its all fair in condos and religion.

    Diggin your header. COme visit me and see my Adtalk series. I think it might interest you. If you have time. Of course you will be busy shopping for condos I imagine!

  44. Found my way here from wrekehavoc’s website, and boy, am I glad. Thanks for the laugh!

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